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Vidyottama: The rising sun and the fallen world

PLAY: Vidyottama

DIRECTOR: Mohan Maharishi

Rundown: Vidyottama, the critically comprehensive and most intellectually spiritual of ancient minds, is wife to Kalidas whose writings are mirrored only in her contemplations of the age. She, besides her straightforward critique on his works for their biased assessments and reflections, unveils his contribution in the hegemonic structure and tendencies of society. But she is also Kalidasa’s muse who provokes in him rich and avant-garde introspections and awareness that goes beyond ideological confinements of their time. Vidyottama, with Shiva’s gift, also happens to be traveling across time and space and ends up visiting 2016 along its grotesque realities, and returns with a souvenir of masculine assault from the time she deemed prospective and dared to stroll in.

Incitements: Amid Indian literary canons, Kalidasa’s works have always enticed socio-cultural and romantic imagination in a unique way. Nature adorned aesthetics, the recurring nostalgic relief in its calm themes, and the narrative of love developed purely under nature’s supervision are key motifs in his work. Abhijnanasakuntalam exemplifies all this in precise perfection, and other plays such as Malvikagnimitram and Vikramorvasiyam have had simultaneous recourse and staging.

But isn’t every work of art a living register and reflection on history and its historical entitlements? And if that be taken true, then ‘history’ before being anything is but a male offspring to civilization; and therefore every writer and consequently Kalidasa, in this case, does not escape the burden and infections of a masculine narrative. And it is upon this concern, among many others, that Mohan Maharshi brings “Vidyotma” that dramatizes those very spaces that Indian classical dramas have deliberately eschewed from.

“…Prakarti ke pare aur b kahe spandan he

Sambhavta prakarti b ek aavaran he…”

..reflects Kalidas after Vidyotma invokes in him a new sense of awareness that goes beyond confinements of strategic themes and appreciation. Her criticism ranges from hegemonic upholding of Brahmin and kshatriya codes to the unworthy Dushyant who to her certainly deserved furious diatribe from Shakuntala. Her criticism echoes what can be called ‘fascist legacy and phallocentric predominance’ in Indian literary canons by men. But what to make of the eventual assault that she receives from our masculine time? Is it her violation of thence gender norms and her daring search across time and space that becomes a reason for her terrible assault at hands of 2016? Does it prioritize thence patriarchal orientation of society over our time? It is said that among all nuances there resides an intended one, where the director wanted to reflect on our contemporary gendered society and the terrible sexual violence it wreaks. But doesn’t that make the play a deliberate coalition of two different lines putting the coherence of the plot, action, time and theme at risk?

Denouement: But in the end, and in its totality, Vidyottama is a fresh breath of air that unsettles dust of cliché and petty productions which put off our dramatic and theatrical appetites. The presentation turns out to be a rich and soothing aesthetic experience, where beauty is delicate, the theme is deconstructive, the craft is defamiliarising and experience is a rare one. A theatergoer must not miss the restaging of Vidyotma which the repertory will surely bring forth.



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